Invisible destinations, invisible trains…

by

timetable-SR

The 1922 rebuilding of Waterloo Station in London by the London & South Western Railway Company brought order and purpose into what had been a rambling and confusing building. From a Southern Railway poster published shortly before the nationalisation of Britain’s railways.

Travelling by train used to be an adventure.

We got to Waterloo at eleven, and asked where the eleven-five started from.  Of course nobody knew; nobody at Waterloo ever does know where a train is going to start from, or where a train when it does start is going to, or anything about it.  The porter who took our things thought it would go from number two platform, while another porter, with whom he discussed the question, had heard a rumour that it would go from number one.  The station-master, on the other hand, was convinced it would start from the local.

To put an end to the matter, we went upstairs, and asked the traffic superintendent, and he told us that he had just met a man, who said he had seen it at number three platform.  We went to number three platform, but the authorities there said that they rather thought that train was the Southampton express, or else the Windsor loop.  But they were sure it wasn’t the Kingston train, though why they were sure it wasn’t they couldn’t say.

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PKP IC TLK train at Lodz Kaliska. But is it my train? Photo BTWT.

Then our porter said he thought that must be it on the high-level platform; said he thought he knew the train.  So we went to the high-level platform, and saw the engine-driver, and asked him if he was going to Kingston.  He said he couldn’t say for certain of course, but that he rather thought he was.  Anyhow, if he wasn’t the 11.5 for Kingston, he said he was pretty confident he was the 9.32 for Virginia Water, or the 10 a.m. express for the Isle of Wight, or somewhere in that direction, and we should all know when we got there.  We slipped half-a-crown into his hand, and begged him to be the 11.5 for Kingston.

“Nobody will ever know, on this line,” we said, “what you are, or where you’re going.  You know the way, you slip off quietly and go to Kingston.”

“Well, I don’t know, gents,” replied the noble fellow, “but I suppose some train’s got to go to Kingston; and I’ll do it.  Gimme the half-crown.”

Thus we got to Kingston by the London and South-Western Railway.

We learnt, afterwards, that the train we had come by was really the Exeter mail, and that they had spent hours at Waterloo, looking for it, and nobody knew what had become of it.

From Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K Jerome, 1889.

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Changing the printed timetable is a major exercise. Photo BTWT.

Travelling by train in Poland is still an adventure. Surprisingly there is a dearth of information at the point of departure. Printed timetables do not always have details of all intermediate stations and quickly become out of date. The information on main and auxiliary indicator boards is often incomplete. The on-line timetable is probably the safest bet. But, not always.

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Auxiliary departure board at Warszawa Centralna in 2013. There was no indication that the 15:49 and 16:16 to Lodz Kaliska also stopped at Lodz Widzew and Lodz Chojny. Photo BTWT.

(Click to expand to see details.)

A couple of years ago the Zuławy Railway – a preserved fragment of the once extensive narrow gauge  railway network serving the coastal region near Gdańsk – arranged with Arriva to run a number of trains to connect with its tourist trains. Arriva arranged the train paths with infrastructure manager, PKP PLK, and PLK passed on the details to PKP subsidiary, TK Telekom, and the new trains duly appeared in the national railway timetable.

All went well, until PLK, decided to change the times of the paths that it was making available for the new services. Arriva changed the times of its trains, but TK Telekom, which was not contracted to make an intermediate timetable correction, did not change its timetable. During the Zuławy Railway operating season, intending passengers turned up to catch the Arriva trains only to find out that their trains had already gone.

lost trains

Fragment of TLK Telekom page showing the rogue results of a query for a service from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna on 19 April 2015.

In spite of such gremlins, many still consider TK Telekom to be the definitive source of timetable information. The company hosts two timetable query pages: its original service, old.rozklad-pkp.pl, and a newer service, rozklad-pkp.pl. The former is rather old-fashioned, but provides much useful information, including real time tracking, about selected trains. The latter is much easier to use on a mobile phone, but is much less informative.

So when one of BTWT’s regular readers was researching a trip to Krakow in a couple of weeks time it was entirely appropriate that he started by looking up the time of trains on the original TK Telekom website. He had intended to fly in via Katowice on Thursday evening, 16 April and to go back via Warsaw on the Sunday 19 April. Much to his surprise he found (see screen grab above) that there were no suitable connections.

There was a 08:42 TLK train which was timetabled to do the Warsaw journey (via Katowice, Czestochowa and Piotrkow Trybunalski) in 9 hours and 1 minute! The next direct service (and the only one to do the journey in a reasonable time) was the 15:08 EIP.

Accordingly, he decided to forgo his planned trip to Warsaw and afternoon flight back to Heathrow, and to fly out on Sunday morning direct from Krakow. Having booked his plane ticket, he was playing around with PKP IC’s own ticketing portal. Imagine his chagrin when he discovered several additional Sunday services from Krakow to Warsaw that suddenly appeared which had not shown up when he queried the TK Telekom timetable. (See below.)

PKP_IC results

PKP IC e-ticketing system showing additional morning trains from Krakow Glowny to Warszawa Centralna on 19 April.

In fact, there is a very good service from Krakow to Warsaw on Sunday mornings. Services include the 10:06 EIP (journey time 2 hours 26 minutes), the 10:44 TLK (2hrs. 51 min.) and the 12:07 EIC (2hrs. 27 min.).

So is the PKP IC portal better than TK Telekom’s? Well not necessarily. I have seen the PKP IC service display ‘ghost trains’ which do not actually run on the day queried. A more frequent problem is when the system refuses to show the price of available tickets, or to process a ticket sale.

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PKP IC e-ticketing system unable to provide ticket prices for the 17:35 EIP, the 18:35 EIP and the 19:15 TLK trains from Warszawa Centralna to Krakow Glowny at 08:26 on 24 Febuary.

PKP IC e-ticketing

PKP IC e-ticketing system unable to complete a ticket purchase for the 11:35 EIP from Warszawa Centralna to Krakow Glowny at 08:26 on 24 Febuary.

(Click to expand.)

With a fierce warning on the bottom of the page that anyone caught on a Pendolino train without a ticket will be fined 650PLN (118 GBP), the PKP IC ticketing system does not leave the would be Pendolino traveller with a warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe the marketing team at PKP IC could learn a thing or two from the bright young chaps at PolskiBus?

Polski bus

Screen capture showing a part of the PolskiBus home page.

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